The U.S. food industry enables Americans to spend less than 10% of their disposable income on groceries; despite this luxury, one in eight Americans still goes to bed hungry at night. On the flip side, obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., with more than 60 million Americans considered obese. USDA recently launched "MyPlate," an updated take on Americans' dietary needs. As a food producer and runner, I consider nutrition, health and an active lifestyle incredibly important, so I've listed my top five observations about MyPlate below - I hope you'll add yours, as well.
1. Designed to look like a place setting, the simple and colorful MyPlate diagram shows the plate divided into quarters, representing fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins, with a "glass" to represent a serving of dairy products. I love this fun, new look to the old, busy Food Guide Pyramid, and I think the beauty is that the image is devoid of clutter - creating an easy, refreshing reminder for parents to consider as they put together meals for their children.
2. Although I don't always agree with the Obama administration's priorities and decisions, I do have to give credit to First Lady Michelle Obama for her strong campaign for healthy living. Her "Let's Move" initiative recently got a boost from Beyonce, who lent her star power to create a "Move Your Body" video in order to help eliminate childhood obesity. While diet is an important part of healthy living, so is exercise; this is an important reminder for all Americans.
3. By nature, I'm an optimistic individual, but as a journalist, I must take a closer look at the MyPlate guidelines. It's great that fruits and vegetables have a larger emphasis, and I think dedicating half the plate to making these two food groups, which are too often skipped altogether, is critical. However, I'm disappointed that protein didn't earn a larger portion of the plate, and I fear many consumers will miss out on protein-rich beef in lieu of calorie-heavy protein sources like peanut butter and beans. A 3-oz. serving of lean beef is an excellent source of protein, supplying more than half the protein most people need each day. In addition, the protein in beef is a complete, high-quality protein, which means it supplies all of the essential amino acids, or building blocks of protein, the body needs to build, maintain and repair body tissue. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that eating more protein can benefit weight loss, muscle mass maintenance, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and satiety.
4. While the simplicity of MyPlate makes an excellent graphic for busy families to reference, the additional guidelines offered by USDA are a little too vague for me. USDA recommends the following: "Enjoy your food, but eat less. Avoid oversized portions. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Make at least half your grains whole grains. Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk. Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals ― and choose the foods with lower numbers. Drink water instead of sugary drinks."
Among the questions and concerns I have – since when is fat the enemy? Fat is essential to life, so why are we cutting the fat from our dairy choices? Choosing fat-free increases artificial sugar contents and takes away the nutritional value. Second, while salt and sugar are mentioned, American's consumption of cheap, processed foods won't necessarily be reduced by these guidelines. Plenty of fruits, vegetables and grain options are loaded with sugar, salt and preservatives, and MyPlate doesn't attempt to educate today's consumers about the importance of fresh, whole foods.
5. Finally, I asked many of you on Facebook and Twitter your thoughts on the MyPlate, and it appears that most of us are on the same page. While it's not perfect, the new USDA guidelines eliminate the clutter in our busy lives and offer a simple take on healthy eating by addressing portion sizes and balanced caloric intake. Now the rest is up to us - don't become victim to over-sized restaurant servings and quick-fix meals full of empty calories. We are all responsible for serving our families well-balanced, wholesome meals, and I truly believe healthy, nutrient-dense beef is the perfect complement to colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains and a glass of milk.
What's your take on MyPlate? Do you think the new guidelines address America's problems with food? Add your two cents in the comments section below. And, don't forget to send in your best photo for the BEEF and Roper "Cowboys and Cattlemen" Photo Contest! Link here for details and check back tomorrow for an updated gallery of reader-submitted entries!